On Tuesday, President Donald Trump sent a message to North Korea that if the country makes any more nuclear threats to the United States, they will be met with "fire and fury like the world has never seen." As tensions rise between the two countries, it's important to remember that Trump hasn't appointed a U.S. ambassador to South Korea.
According to BuzzFeed, anonymous U.S. officials had disclosed to a South Korean newspaper in June that Trump may pick Victor Cha as America's South Korean ambassador. But Cha told reporters that he had not been approached by the White House regarding the appointment. Cha is a Korea expert at Georgetown and previously served on the National Security Council as director of Asian affairs and deputy head of the U.S. party delegation for the six-party talks during former President George W. Bush's administration.
However, BuzzFeed noted that despite Cha's potential nomination being praised by Asian experts on both sides of the aisle, there could be one thing that's gotten in the way of him being formally nominated. In early July, Cha co-published a Washington Post op-ed with Jake Sullivan. The op-ed detailed a plan for the United States to work with China to resolve the issues in North Korea. Sullivan worked for Trump's political opponent Hillary Clinton as a senior policy adviser.
On the other hand, a source close to the White House told BuzzFeed that the op-ed didn't bother Trump because Cha did not say anything bad about him, so his potential appointment could have been stalled for a completely different reason. However, the White House declined to comment to BuzzFeed about unannounced personnel.
Currently, Marc Knapper is in Seoul as interim Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy, where he has worked since Trump's inauguration. Previously, he served as deputy chief of mission in Seoul.
Even if Trump were to nominate an ambassador to South Korea soon, the nominee would still need to go through Senate approval before he or she could begin. And the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hasn't received nominations for the ambassador to South Korea or undersecretary for arms control, a representative told the Huffington Post.
Meanwhile, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert reinforced the White House's role in selecting U.S. ambassadors to foreign countries. Nauert also said of Knapper, "He’s on the ground, so I’m confident that it’s good, solid hands until the president nominates somebody for that position."
For now, Americans will need to rely on the representatives currently working in South Korea to keep things running as smoothly as possible.